Amidst border disputes with Pakistan and China, India has faced a fresh border dispute with one of its most friendly nation Nepal. The dispute triggered by Nepal was unexpected especially when the whole world is facing a pandemic that has become almost uncontrollable. While the whole world is busy in tackling the Covid-19 crisis, the Nepalese Government published a new political map on 20th of may, 2020. The map shows a sliver of land- including Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani. The move came little more than six months after India published new maps of the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh that showed Kalapani as part of the Uttarakhand state.
India’s External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava rejected Nepal’s claim, saying, “Such artificial enlargement of territorial claims will not be accepted by India.” While Rajan Bhattarai, Foreign Policy Advisor to Prime Minister of Nepal K.P. Sharma Oli responded’ saying, “Our map is not artificial. Our position is based on the historical documents dating back to the Treaty of Sugauli of 1816, which demarcated the shape of present day Nepal.” It can be mentioned here that India and Nepal had both shown Kalapani and Lipulekh in their political maps, but Nepal had not previously shown Limpiyadhura
India and Nepal enjoys centuries long geographic, historical, cultural, religious and economic ties or linkages. Both the countries have close bonds through marriages and familial ties, popularly known as Roti-Beti ka Rishta. Nepal shares borders with 5 Indian states- Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Sikkim and Bihar. Along with Bhutan it acts as buffer states for India against any possible aggression from China. India is Nepal’s largest trade partner and the largest sources of foreign investment. Nepal being a landlocked country, India provides transit for almost all the third party trade of Nepal. Government of India provides several assistance to Nepal in its development, defence sector or in the form of humanitarian assistance during various natural calamities like earthquake, floods etc. Defence cooperation includes assistance to Nepalese army in its modernization through provision of recruitment and training. The Gorkha Regiments of the Indian Army are raised partly by recruitment from hill districts of Nepal. India from 2011, undertakes joint military exercise with Nepal known as Surya Kiran.
Above all the most important is the India-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1950. It signifies the special relations that exist between India and Nepal. As per articles 6 and 7 of the treaty, the two governments agreed to grant, on a reciprocal basis, to the nationals of one country in the territories of the other, the same privileges in the matter of residence, ownership of property, participation in trade and commerce, movement and other privileges of a similar nature. This enables Nepalese and Indian citizens to move freely across the border without passport or visa, live and work in either country and own property or conduct trade or business in either country.
Reason behind the dispute
To understand the bone of contention between both the countries we have to go back to the early history. The issue can be drawn back to the early 19th century, when the British ruled India and Nepal was a conglomeration of small kingdoms under the reign of King Prithvi Narayan Shah. Shah is believed to be the most ambitious ruler among the Gorkhas. In the late 18th century, Nepal was unified under him. The area of Nepal was stretched as far as Sikkim in the East and the Garhwal and Kumaon region of Uttarakhand in the West. By early 19th century the English East India Company started expanding it’s territories and came to close proximity with Palpa. Palpa was an independent town in Nepalese heartland. Soon border disputes started rising. The British realised that Nepalese were proving to be a hindrance against their trade ambitions with Tibet.
On November 1, 1814, the British declared war on Nepal. In 1815, the British general, Sir David Ochterlony, managed to evict the Nepalese from Garhwal and Kumaon. A year later, the war came to an end with the signing of the Sugauli treaty. The Sugauli Treaty specifically stated that the Kali was the western boundary river. The proper boundary therefore depends on identifying the Kali to its source. The British East India Company produced several maps identifying Kali as the rivercourse going up to the Limpyadhura heights. A rivulet branches north and northeast at this turning point continues past Kalapani to the base of the Lipu Lek pass. In the 1857 uprising the areas of Nepalgunj and Kapilvastu was rewarded to Nepal but no part of Garhwal, Kumaon or Kalapani was given back to Nepal.
The British East India Company after 1860 started identifying Kali as the rivulet that came down from Lipu Lekh. Lipu Lekh was a place of strategic importance. At that time, no Nepali rulers objected to the maps published by the British. It can be noted that Survey of India maps shows the area of Lipu Lekh down to Kalapani as part of British India.
Historical Factors that triggered India-Nepal Dispute
- Both India and Nepal are committed to the Sugauli Treaty of 1816. But they are of different perception. The Treaty do not clearly demarcate the point of reference where the actual boundary lies. This is because the River Mahakali has several tributaries that merge at Kalapani.
- Indian armed forces were deployed in Kalapani when China took control of Tibet in 1950. Nepal had no objection to this until 1996 when talks were arranged to settle border disputes between both the nation.
- In 2015, Nepal was seen protesting when India and China included Lipulekh Pass as a point of border trade without consulting with them.
- In November 2019, India issued a political map after the reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir. Nepal complained about the inclusion of Kalapani and Lipulekh pass as part of India.
- In the most recent incident, India inaugurated the Ghatiagarh-Lipulekh Pass road on May 8, 2020. This road was constructed to facilitate the pilgrims of India(even Nepal) in reaching Kailash Mansarovar, a pilgrimage site in the Himalayas. Nepal was not happy with this step of India.
- In response to the road constructed by India, Nepal government published a new political map of Nepal including Lipyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani as their region.
What Nepal Claims?
Nepal is of the view that the river Kali originates in Limpyadhura. So they claim Kalapani and Lipulekh that lies eastern side of the stream as their territory.
What India Claims?
According to India the river that Nepal identifies to be River Kali is actually a rivulet called Lipu Gad. India is of the view that the river Mahakali begins at a point where Lipu Gad meets the stream from the springs of Kalapani. Thus India claims that Lipulekh Pass, Kalapani and Limpyadhura belong to India
What is the solution to the India-Nepal dispute ?
India and Nepal enjoys very friendly relation from a very long time. Citizens of both the coutries have a roti-beti ka rishta . Besides this the Indo-Nepal friendship has lot more importance on terms of trade, strategic or geographical positions, treaties of friendship etc. So both the countries cannot afford to deteriorate relations on such issues that can be resolved with bilateral talks. As the matter is just a difference of perception, this problem can be solved quietly and diplomatically without any intervention of others.
Nepal has already proposed Foreign Secretary level Talks with India. While India has also called for “constructive and positive efforts” and said that such border disputes had been taken with seriousness and with an aim to resolve them as soon as possible.